Meet me in Calder
City councilman Bill Mincer got the ball rolling on this one. He did what everyone does, and asked me a question about local stuff. I didn’t know the answer, so I promised to find out and get back to him.
Specifically, Bill wanted to know about the brick sidewalk at the corner of South Fairview and Linden Streets. Along the side of one property, there are bricks embedded in the ground, forming a portion of sidewalk that runs up to the alley. Some of them are broken or not very even, so this sidewalk couldn’t be said to be excessively handicap-accessible. But it’s interesting, and I told him I’d look into it.
My son and I went down with our flashlights one evening, and looked them over. Paul, who is just now learning to read, was the one who noticed words on some of the bricks. Once we were able to find an undamaged and comparatively clean one, we could read them: PENN BLOCK, CALDER PA.
So I checked into it, and found out that the bricks were manufactured in Cameron County, sometime between 1898 and 1920. They were made in Calder, in spite of the fact that there was no such place.
It’s a fascinating story. Let me elaborate.
The Penn Block Brick Works was established in Cameron County in 1898 by a man named Calder. (I couldn’t find a first name. Hell, it worked for MacGyver.) Today, it’s basically a set of ruins near Hunts Run Road, outside Emporum. But it was a big deal back then, with plenty of buildings and sidewalks constructed out of Penn Block bricks.
The brick works had around a dozen company homes, so Calder decided to create a community that consisted of the employees’ homes and the brick works. The town was to be creatively named “Calder.” He applied to have a post office put there, the Calder Post Office, and in anticipation, began making bricks that had the name of the community stamped on them: Calder, Pa.
Which wound up looking pretty silly when the post office was denied, and therefore the plans for a town fell through.
So Calder and his brick factory wound up with loads of bricks that referenced a non-existent place. The phrase on bricks, moving forward, was “Penn Block, Cameron, PA.”
When the place went out of business in 1920, one of the Emporium banks bought up the remaining bricks, and sold them off at a deep discount. Some were used for fill at a nearby airport, some used to build sidewalks — Including one sidewalk in the Hill Section of Lock Haven.
The obvious question is, how did they get to Lock Haven? I don’t mean physically; clearly they were shipped in by truck or train. But what was the chain of events that led to them being here?
I checked into the house on the corner. That property was owned by William Rathgeber, city councilman, in the 1920s. Thank you, 1921 City Directory. Rathgeber was in the insurance business, but he had relatives who lived with him who were into banking. It’s very likely they’d have gotten a memo or something about the cheap bricks that were available, never mind the imaginary borough they mentioned on the front.
That is probably how Rathgeber came to purchase the bricks, and put them in his sidewalk. There are maybe a couple of hundred bricks there, all uniformly matching, and all of them with the name of Calder on them.
I didn’t actually expect such a fascinating story when Bill asked me about it, but I wound up getting a neat little bit of history. And it’s Cameron County history, not Clinton… But still somehow managed to be about half a block from my home.
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at email@example.com or 570-660-4463.